Monday, August 22, 2011

Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary honors Tom and challenges us

Tom died on December 10, 2009. I never knew him, but he was made of the stuff that we all hope we’ll find in our genes when we face life’s challenges. This month, thanks to Andrew Westoll’s book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery, I had the wonderful and awful opportunity to meet Tom and other “retired” research chimpanzees.
Westoll tells the story of chimpanzees from LEMSIP, one of the infamous primate research laboratories. He tells of their rescue by Gloria Grow, who gives the chimpanzees a chance for some small degree of normalcy at her Fauna Foundation sanctuary. But he does much, much more than that. He honors his readers by letting us experience deep and honest empathy for real beings.
The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is not a fictionalized attempt to play with our emotions. It is not a tale of make-believe corporate villains and sexy primatologists. This is the real deal, and Westoll's true narrative hits multiple targets with unnerving precision. The targets? The heart, which aches for these chimpanzees and for the people who are their caregivers. The gut, which wrenches with the realization that nearly a thousand chimpanzees -- still in laboratories -- are experiencing the sickening trauma that created havoc with these lives. And the head that reels with the absolute certainty that research on chimpanzees must stop. Now.
Mr. Westoll has done all of us a favor by writing so beautifully about these chimpanzees. In the end, his sensitive yet vivid portrayal gives us more than knowledge... it gives us the moral challenge to right this dreadful wrong.
So many people are now trying to right the wrong. Giving testimony at the recent federal meetings considering the use of chimpanzees in research, Theodora Capaldo, speaking for Project Release & Restitution, tried to help committee members visualize the too real consequences of research when she described the heartbreaking results of Tom’s autopsy. (If you want to read about the devastation done to Tom’s body, see page 8 of Theodora’s written testimony.)
We need to find a way to honor Tom, permanently. Getting chimpanzees out of research and into sanctuaries would be a fitting honor.


  1. We need to get the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act passed, so that chimps and all great apes are the first animals 'out of the loop' of this devastating practice of vivisection. In that they are so close to us, and are still not the best models for solving human disease, the others, so much different from us physiologically, can also be free of the inhumane actions taken on animals in labs, who suffer as equally as any human can.

  2. You are absolutely right. I am so glad to see my congressman, Rep Chris Van Hollen, signed on to co-sponsor the bill in the House. On the other hand, total disappointment in my senators who won't even commit to voting for it. When I ask why, I get form letters with platitudes. I won't tell you my reaction to those letters, in case young and innocent eyes read this!

  3. Very moving book. Anyone who supports use of primates in medical research should read it because instead of attacking the idea of research it asks people to consider what that research is doing to the subjects.